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Monday, February 23rd 2015

20:53

Relating to God, part 5c

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Okay.

I really try not to turn this blog into either a medical diary or a weather journal, but when things get weird, I don’t want to leave them out either. Right now the persistence of the cold weather is, in my opinion, noteworthy. Here is a table of the predictions for the rest of this week, the end of February. The degrees are, of course, in Fahrenheit.

 

Mon

Tues

Wed

Thurs

Fri

Sat

High

13

25

22

15

15

23

Low

-4

12

-1

-6

-3

14

 

Then on Sunday, March 1, it's supposed to warm up and climb all the way to 41. We'll see. That's what they said about this last weekend as well, and it didn't turn out that way. As the local people say everywhere you go, "We seem to be having unusual weather this year."

Me on StreetJelly*****

Once again, I would like to extend an invitation to join me on StreetJelly.com on Thursday night at 9 pm.  The program will be a potpourri of songs, and I’m planning on unveiling the StreetJelly Blues (provisional title), which I wrote yesterday afternoon while watching the Daytona 500. Requests, particularly ahead of time, are welcome.

*****

Speaking of Daytona, yesterday’s race was incredible; much of the time the cars were running three abreast. The Daytona Speedway is a large track, where the cars, as they are set up presently, attain speeds over 200 mph (322 kph). In the past, as the race proceeded, there would usually be two lines of cars, racing side by side, drafting behind the leaders in front. Obviously, you could get out of line and pass the car(s) in front of you, which happens quite often, but you would do so at your peril. If you got caught in the middle of the two lines without a Joey Logano Daytona 2015drafting partner, you’d probably lose a lot of positions pretty quickly. For that matter, for cars to attempt to go through the turns three abreast had been fairly risky. This year, three abreast was the norm. The reason given was that this year there were no technical changes mandated for the cars, so the crews could tinker with last year's specs to the point of near-perfection. The picture almost looks like a parade lap with Joey Logano's machine as the pace car. But it actually depicts full-speed racing.

In comparison to open wheel race cars (such as Indy cars), stock cars can run much closer to each other. In the former, if two cars should touch while they are side-by-side, chances are that two wheels would come together like two gears, and the effect would be that one or even both cars would go flying. Since in stock cars the wheels are protected, you get “door-handle to door-handle” racing, so that cars may even touch each others’ sides without serious damage. I remember in an ASA race a number of years ago two drivers named Mike Eddy and Scott Hanson were racing side by side around a track for fifty laps or so, with neither one of them giving an inch. Yesterday, it was “door-handle to door-handle to door-handle.” Congratulations to Joey Logano for the big win!

*****

In the last entry I tried to make the point that many people confuse miracles, which God gives at his discretion, with magic, by which human beings supposedly have acquired the correct technique to influence the spirits or gods or God to perform supernatural feats. In magic, if I were to pray to God and ask for a miracle under the right conditions, the miracle should happen. So, unbelievers sometimes challenge Christians to either produce a miracle or, at a minimum, specify the conditions under which we can expect a miracle. That's asking for magic, not a miracle, and you can't fault the Christian for not being able to control God so as to do magic tricks with his power. To be sure, there are miracles, and God answers prayers, but it is not possible for us to constrain his will.

 

Magic

Miracles

Prayer

The human being is able to apply the proper technique so that spirits or gods will do what the person is asking for, including events that we would consider to be miracles.

God’s direct intervention in events in his creation. His personal free actions supersede the usual patterns according to the laws of nature or our expectations. The occurrence of miracles is at God’s pleasure, and we cannot specify when he brings about a miracle.

Our communication with God, based on our understanding of his word, the Bible. In accordance with his plan, God will respond to our prayers, but not necessarily by giving us what we want. Most importantly, we affirm that we are secure in God’s hands, even in troubling circumstances.

If it’s okay with you, I’m going to leave that statement about prayer alone for the moment so that we will not to loose track of the main point completely. Let’s go back to “Emil’s” assertions and respond to him by looking at the various components of his statement. Remember that Emil is a fictional individual, but I’m sure any active Christian reading these lines has heard them multiple times before, as I have. Using a fictional person gives me the freedom to write more directly, and perhaps a little more harshly, than I would in interacting with a real person.

 

I like Christianity.  It’s a nice religion.  I’m glad it gets people to love others and to help them, and I’m sure that a lot of people find meaning in it.

Emil, this beginning already shows us that your fundamental understanding of Christianity is in need of correction. It does not reflect what Christians themselves hold to as the meaning of Christianity. You seem to see Christianity pretty much on a horizontal plane on which people care for each other, presumably because they are emulating the love of God by loving other people. I hope that Christian communities are characterized by genuine love, and many, though clearly not all, fit that description. But positive human relationships are only the consequence of the far more important restoration of a broken relationship with God through Christ. Thus, the vertical precedes the horizontal. Emil, you are commenting on the truth of Christianity in general terms, but you do not mention anything about Christ dying on the cross as atonement for your sins. Apparently you are limiting God’s function simply to providing good things for people, and, thus, you are missing the main point.

My problem is that it doesn’t work.

Emil, there are quite a few other people who have made that statement to me and have meant it in the same way as you do. God did not take away a particular problem that they had, and, thus, Christianity did not “work” for them. But, whether I’m talking to you or a confirmed atheist or an adherent to other religions, I must stick to the beliefs that reside at the core of Christianity, namely, as I said above, the gospel of redemption. So, when you say that Christianity doesn’t “work,” strictly speaking you would be saying that Christ’s redemption was a failure, which is a very odd statement to make (though some cult leaders, e.g. Sun Myung Moon, actually have made that claim). I realize that this is not what you have in mind. You, along with various other people, are complaining that Christianity has not eliminated the hardships from your life. But that is something that we are not promised anywhere.

If Christianity were true, wouldn’t God make sure than none of his children would have to suffer?—or at least that they would suffer less? I mean, even if for some reason there has to be some evil in the world, couldn’t God be doing at least a little better job?

Emil, here you are bringing up the conceptual problem of evil, which truly is an important issue. For more thoughts on that subject, please read my lengthier Thoughts on the Problem of Evil  as well as, say, chapter seven of No Doubt About It. In our conversation here we are looking more on the subjective side of the issue. Let me tell you that, as far as I’m concerned, Christians should feel genuinely troubled by all of the evil and suffering in the world. God has created us with that sensitivity, and so we should be experiencing the tension between our belief in an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God and the reality of evil. But, Emil, think about this: if God really has all of those infinite attributes that result in a conflict between what we know of him and the reality of evil and suffering in the world, then the correct inference must be that God is in the process of eliminating that evil. In fact, only an infinite God is able to do so. Thus, the very same properties of God that give rise to the tension also provide confidence for a resolution. I’m afraid, though, (and I feel bad saying so, even though it's necessary)that you’re not really thinking along such broad lines. I get the feeling that for you, as for so many other people, the definition of evil seems to boil down to not getting what you desire, a point that you make pretty clear in what follows.

Emil, your prayer wasn’t all that small. You were asking for a miracle. We’ll come back to this matter in a moment.

The other day, I was on my way to church; you’d think God would want me there to worship him.

Emil, you can’t make bargains with God. He is the sovereign Lord of the universe, and you are his creature. Miraculously (if I may use that expression here), he loves you; in fact he loves you so much that Jesus paid for your sins in his death on the cross. Furthermore, if you are a Christian he dwells within you and is changing you into a new and better person. But all of those things come from him by his love and grace, not as a response to a bargain you have struck with him. If I may take recourse to one of my favorite medieval thinkers, you are exhibiting what Meister Eckhart called a “merchant mentality,” by which he meant that many people think that they can undertake business-like ventures with God. "God, in exchange for my doing this and that, I expect you to do that and this."

It doesn’t work that way; the merchant mentality really is no different from magic. You think that God owes you thanks for going to church. To be really honest, we sometimes make a big deal about whether a person is within a designated church building for a minimum amount of time on a Sunday morning, but I’m not sure that God cares all that much about where you sit at that time. He does not need your worship as the deities of other religions do, in which the deities are believed lose power if they do not receive their daily portion of attention.  God wants our worship as long as it is an expression of our submission and gratitude to him and heartfelt praise of him. If it were possible to bribe God to do something for you, and all it amounts to is that you sit in a church service, you have picked about the lowest level of payment I can think of.

But no, my car was really low on gas, and I kept praying that the Lord would make it last to the next gas station.  That would have been such an easy thing for him to do, and I was really sincere.  I told God that if he would make the gas go all the way to the station, I would definitely believe in him and never, ever doubt his existence again.

Ducktor Gas OfferEmil, you are right when you say that making your fuel last longer than it normally should is definitely a small thing for God to do, though it would be a miracle. You even raised your offer to God. Not only would you have worshiped him in church, you even would have believed in him and his existence for the rest of your life. And you stressed your sincerity in proposing this deal to God.

But, Emil, you are forgetting that God has already laid out the principles of having a relationship with him. There is plenty of evidence for his existence in the world around us (and again, I can’t be more specific here since this entry must come to an end somewhere). He has said in his word that anyone who comes to him in acknowledgement of their sinfulness, relying on Christ and his work alone for atonement, will become his child. It’s an astounding offer from God, and, if we can understand it at all, then only as an expression of his love and grace. But you don’t seem to take God’s offer seriously. You counter his invitation to salvation by proposing that you will deign to believe in him in exchange for a tank of gas. Can you see how far off the mark you are? God has extended his invitation, which for your own reasons apparently doesn’t suit you. Instead you are trivializing him and your status as fallen creature by thinking that you can pass judgment on his existence if he fulfills an absurd wish of yours. I feel sad for you, but God is not going to give you a special deal on terms that you dictate to him.

But a mile from the station, the engine sputtered out, and so did my faith.

What faith, Emil? It doesn't appear that you had any faith in God. Maybe you were brought up under circumstances that stuck the label of “Christian” on you by default. Perhaps you were truly sincere in the test you proposed to God. However, in what you are saying I don’t see any evidence that you really understand what faith in God entails.

Please hear me out. It’s not unusual for Christians to go through times of doubt; in fact, I think that those periods are often opportunities for further growth. How one can find one’s way through such dark periods depends on the circumstances, particularly on an understanding of what caused the questioning to begin with. For all that I know, Emil, you may even be going through such a period yourself, and you’re covering up your much deeper concerns with that superficial challenge to God. But, it doesn't look that way, and I’m quite sure that the chances are very low that your doubts will be cleared up by giving God an ultimatum: either he will give you undeserved gasoline or you will not recognize his existence.

Emil, please study the Bible. Get weaned off the idea that you can come to God on your terms. Recognize your status as a fallen creature and the impossibility of your redemption by starting out by extending conditions to God. Become aware of the reality that the very same God, in comparison with whom you and I fall so short, is inviting you to become his child on the basis of your faith in the work of redemption done by Jesus Christ. You don’t have to think up ways of getting God’s attention; they're only going to exacerbate your alienation from him. Instead, just accept him by trusting him and relying on him, not on yourself. I can’t promise you free gas or other exemptions from real life, but I can tell you that God has promised us eternal life. There’s some educational value in learning about how you ran out of gas and God wouldn’t give you a miracle. But I must say that his offer eternal life is far too important to let it ride on such a small non-event.

1 Responses So Far / Comments and Disagreement are Welcome. / Courtesy is Mandatory.

Friday, February 20th 2015

21:09

Relating to God, part 5b

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: ok

So much for things warming up a bit towards this weekend. If we should actually get above freezing, it’ll be just a smidgeon for a very short time tomorrow (Saturday). The forecast is for snow and a high of 33°F. I have a Dr.’s appointment for early tomorrow morning, and I hope that the slick stuff will wait until I’m home.

*****

The weirdest thing happened last night after I finished my set on StreetJelly.com. I was done at 9:59 pm, which only gave me a minute or so to turn off the switches, unplug the peripherals from the laptop, take the computer downstairs, and start watching “Elementary” on TV while filling out my list of cover songs. Since it had been Bob Dylan night, I also needed to extricate myself from the harmonica holder, a process that requires the temporary removal of my glasses. So, I quickly undertook the necessary procedures, reached for my glasses on the desktop where I had set them down—and they weren’t there. With all the clutter and various cords, I couldn’t feel them, and none of the blurry patches that I could see added up to the overall impression of eye glasses.

Well, I unplugged the computer, grabbed a couple of other things, and descended the stairs to the (present) living room. Having deposited my load on a couch, I told June that I had to go back upstairs to the library and hunt for my glasses. And so I did. I looked as well as I could, crawled, groped, and explored, all without success. How could I lose my glasses within a mere fifteen seconds? Yes, I prayed without extending an ultimatum to God, if you’re looking for an application to our current theological discussion, but that’s not the point of this anecdote. I am mostly recording it in the spirit of uplifting literary entertainment and edification.

Half an hour later, I asked June to come up and please help me look, which she did gladly, but with equal lack of success. She finally concluded that the glasses couldn’t possibly be in that room, a sentiment with which I agreed in theory, but still resisted because it just didn’t square with the facts as I remembered them. I know I have memory lapses, but not to remember that I had actually left the room and placed the glasses somewhere else upstairs prior to depositing the harmonica holder on the library desk, would be beyond the possible. The very short time frame also ruled it out. So, the glasses must have totally vanished into nothingness, not a common occurrence, but, as Sherlock Holmes says, “When all the other alternatives have been eliminated, whatever remains, no matter how improbable it may be, must be the truth.” I would have to face the fact that we might have to rewrite some physical laws and metaphysical principles.

June went downstairs again to consider other options while I remained in the library to go through the same unsuccessful actions a fourth or fifth time hoping for a different outcome, a mark of the onset of insanity, I am told. Actually, I was not totally beside myself, but I was quite unhappy, and for the moment the entire focus of my life had converged into the single point of finding my glasses.  

June had barely made it back downstairs when she called up to me, “Found them!” I am tempted to write that I could hardly believe my ears, but that would be wanton hyperbole. Why would I not believe what my wife had told me? The glasses had been lying on the floor just a few feet from the staircase, and if there was a miracle, it was that neither of us had stepped on them and crushed them. Clearly, since I had prayed to find them, it was also an answer to my prayer, but again, that’s not my point (yet).

As I figure it, the glasses had become entangled in the laptop cords when I bunched them up to carry the computer downstairs, and they fell out once I had reached the bottom of the stairs. By that time “Elementary” was just about over. I filled out my sheet and then, to my surprise, realized that FSANF* Joel Jupp had just started a set of Christian songs on StreetJelly. I assume that other FSANF’s remember him. His program went over extremely well.

*****

Now, to return to the topic of our relationship to God. We had been looking at the statement by the fictional Emil to the effect that he no longer believed in God because God did not give him an instantaneous “miracle” when he asked for it.

In this entry I want to clarify the difference between miracles and magic. I find that in many disputes concerning the reality of miracles, the discussion is not really about miracles, but about whether Christians can perform magic which they just happen to call “prayer.” In that case the Christian is at a decided disadvantage because such a mix-up does not do justice to the nature of either a miracle or prayer. For purposes of this discussion a miracle is a direct action that God brings about in this world, according to his wisdom, sometimes using angels or human beings as his agents. (That’s not meant as a complete definition.) When God does a miracle, he neither breaks nor suspends the laws of nature, but, as their creator, his acts supersede them. Magic is something that human beings attempt to do. They may believe that if they meet the appropriate conditions, they can bring about changes in the world by manipulating spiritual forces. The conditions may include holding proper beliefs, being spiritually pure, undertaking the prescribed rituals, and directing yourself to the right spiritual entity or entities. For example, a Native American shaman may think that he knows the proper technique to drive the spirits that are causing an illness out of a person. Or, an American Christian may think that if he repeats the prayer recommended in a best-selling book on a regular basis, God will supply him with blessings that he would not receive otherwise. One may call it “prayer,” but the underlying concept is technically magic, viz. finding the best way to move God to grant your requests. If it doesn’t work out, it could be that you just haven’t fulfilled all of the conditions yet.

Now, my point right here is not to chastise the practice of what I’m calling magic under a biblical umbrella; I’ll do that again some day. My purpose is to call attention to the fact that the distinction between miracles and magic is often ignored. Patrick Nowell-Smith provided a good example of this mistake in an essay called “Miracles,” published in Hibbert Journal in 1950, and then reprinted in the famous, though no longer new, New Essays in Philosophical Theology, ed. by Flew and MacIntyre, 1955, pp. 243-53. He addressed the question of whether miracles are phenomena that can correctly be ascribed to a supernatural realm, which differs from the natural on the basis of whether it can according to scientific procedures. To help clarify his point, let us return to the biblical miracle I mentioned last time, in which Elijah, an unnamed widow, and her sun survived many months on a small, but ever-renewing amount of flour and oil that normally would have sufficed for only one meal. The fact that the woman used these portions to make bread and that all three people ate it every day is an observation in the natural realm. But we have no natural explanation for what caused this event. All that appears to be available to us is to call it a “miracle” and place it into the realm of the supernatural.

But, asks Nowell-Smith, can there be such a thing as a supernatural explanation? His answer is a decisive “no.” His case can be summarized in this way:

1. So-called miracles belong either to the natural order or to a supernatural order.

2. If they belong to the natural order, they can be understood scientifically, in which case they can be used as explanations for unusual natural events, but then they do not carry much more significance than other natural phenomena.

3. If they belong to a supernatural realm, they cannot be understood scientifically, in which case they cannot be used as explanations for natural events, no matter how unusual.

Nowell-Smith establishes this dilemma after clarifying that a scientific explanation must conform to natural laws, and that these laws have certain indispensable features. He says,

If it is a law, it must (a) be based on evidence; (b) be of a general type ‘Under such and such conditions, so and so will happen’; (c) be capable of testing in experience. And if it conforms to this specification, how does it differ from natural law? The supernatural seems to dissolve on the one hand into the natural and on the other into the inexplicable.

Having prepared you, I’m sure you are now already one step ahead of what I’m about to say. Nowell-Smith turns the essence of a miracle into an act of magic. He claims that, in order to understand a miracle as a type of explanation it must be no different from physical explanations. First of all, we must have evidence for it. (Thereby, he has actually placed himself into a vicious circle because the fundamental question is what would serve as evidence for a miracle.) Then he insists that we would have to be able to name a set of conditions that are necessary and sufficient to produce a miracle. Finally, the fact that those conditions are, indeed, correct can only be established by repeated experiential testing. Thus, returning to my illustration, we should be able to emulate the conditions for Elijah’s miracle and come up with a never-ending supply of flour and oil, just as he did. If we cannot do so, calling that scenario a “miracle” is merely resorting to a phrase that has no explanatory value and provides no meaningful insights. I trust you can see that Nowell-Smith is asking for nothing less than a recipe for magic. Appropriating his own words, you do “such-and-such” and “so and so will happen.” That’s magic, and it is far removed from the free actions of a personal God.

Back when Nowell-Smith was writing this paper, for the most part atheists still wrote coherent essays that were carefully analyzing difficult topics. Today’s new atheists may simply challenge us to authenticate the reality of a miracle for them by producing one for their inspection. It comes down to the same thing: They want us to do magic; they are unwilling to bow to the sovereignty of God, who may supply a miracle as it suits his greater plan. Then, again, if they did, they wouldn’t be atheists. However, we can point out to them that what we mean by a miracle is a direct intervention by God that does not occur on any predictable or repeatable plan, and that they are, consequently, attacking a straw man.

But is it a straw man? How many of us Christians are searching for a way of making God bless us more, by which we mean to give us certain things, some of them trivial, many of them very serious. The emphasis in the above sentence is on “making God bless,” viz. forcing his hand or impressing him in some way so that he will provide us with what we might not have received apart from our prayer. We cannot manipulate God. We should definitely pray to him and lay all of our needs, wants, desires, wishes, hopes, fantasies, problems, and what-nots before him. He knows them all already, and will not be surprised. Furthermore, he already knows what is best and will guide matters along that line, sometimes answering our prayers directly, sometimes seemingly ignoring them because he knows a lot more than we do. The latter situation can often be extremely painful for us, and may only be bearable by unreserved faith in him, by which I mean faith in him as the infinite God, not faith that he will eventually come around to our blueprint. But if we think of prayer as “Jesus-magic,” by which I mean thinking that we can influence God to guide our lives according to our own finite lights, we are not only misunderstanding our relationship to God, but we become high risks for eventual spiritual breakdown.

My mind is just going on and on, but I need to stop here and carry on next time. I'll also provide some means of breaking up the monotony of pure text.

*Former Student And Now Friend

0 Responses So Far / Comments and Disagreement are Welcome. / Courtesy is Mandatory.

Wednesday, February 18th 2015

23:39

Relating to God, part 5

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: cold

Ducktor as frozen robinI could have sworn that I saw some robins about a month ago in a little thicket-surrounded gully next to where we parked for the walk-in clinic. One must, of course, take into account that I was there because of possible side effects from falling on my head. But I had heard that not all robins migrate south; if so, these birds would have constituted a good sample of those members of their species who did not know what was good for them. It’s been really cold, with night time low temperatures around the zero mark (F). Actually, the prediction is now -4°F for tonight and -7°F for tomorrow night. There has been regular snow off and on, though always in measured quantities, (e.g. 1-2 inches), but this winter weather, though still not quite as harsh as last year’s, is just continuing marching on in its stride. This coming Saturday is supposed to be the first day when it will get above freezing after about ten days of arctic (as far as I'm concerned) temperatures. I realize that some of my new Canadian acquaintances on StreetJelly would look at this temperature and consider whether to have an outside picnic, but it’s sufficiently cold for me to dream of Southern Colorado. I’m ready for spring.

Speaking of StreetJelly, I’m continuing with my sets on Thursday evenings at 9 pm EST (that’s 8 pm central, 7 pm mountain, 6 pm pacific, 5 pm Alaska, 2 am GMT, and 3 am German time). Here is the agenda for the next few weeks:

Day

Time

Headline

Bob Dylan

Feb. 19

9 pm

Bob Dylan Tunes

Feb. 26

9 pm

Funny, Serious, and Both

Mar. 5

9 pm

Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?

Mar. 12

9 pm

Chip-Kickin’ Songs

Mar. 19

9 pm

All Gospel

Mar. 26

9 pm

Judy Collins Tunes

Obviously, that schedule is subject to possible revision, not to mention the ever-present possibility of intervention by divine providence. June and I are doing pretty well in terms of our health, though I must say that at the moment I don’t feel nearly as well as I did last week.

*****

Speaking of the divine, here is the next (and last) of our “testimonies” concerning one person’s interaction with God. I’m picturing a guy making these statements, though either gender would fit. Since we’re probably going to spend more than one entry on this angle, let’s make it easy on ourselves and give him a name. “Emil” might be good; I don’t think I know any currently living person with that moniker. So, if your name should be Emil, please be assured that I did not have you in mind, and I’m sure you’re making this world a better place to live.

 

I like Christianity.  It’s a nice religion.  I’m glad it gets people to love others and to help them, and I’m sure that a lot of people find meaning in it.  My problem is that it doesn’t work.  

If Christianity were true, wouldn’t God be making sure than none of his children would have to suffer?—or at least that they would suffer less? I mean, even if for some reason there has to be some evil in the world, couldn’t God be doing at least a little better job?  

For example, he doesn’t seem to want to answer even my smallest prayers. The other day, I was on my way to church; you’d think God would want me there to worship him.  But no, my car was really low on gas [petrol], and I kept praying that the Lord would make it last to the next gas station.  That would have been such an easy thing for him to do, and I was really sincere.  I told God that if he would make the gas go all the way to the station, I would definitely believe in him and never, ever doubt his existence again.  But a mile from the station, the engine sputtered out, and so did my faith.

My greatest fear with regard to this vignette is that we can theoretically make it disappear with just a few proper words and never address the issues surrounding it. --- What this person is asking for is out of step with the nature of God as he has revealed himself to us.  We can’t (or shouldn’t) relate to him in this manner because getting us out of little fixes is not a job requirement for God. If I may lapse into anthropomorphisms, God does not reside on a big leather couch in heaven, his eyes glued to a huge bank of monitors, one for every person alive, ready to give each one of us instantly whatever we want. --- This response is true, and it appears to have settled the matter immediately. Emil needs to come to a better understanding of God. What else is there to say?

The reality is that, as immature and irresponsible Emil may be, his words may not be all that different from what you and I may have said to God as well at various points in our lives. Furthermore, atheist back benchers are shouting at us to adopt Emil’s understanding of God as correct and, thereby, to accept God’s non-existence. They are certainly right to this extent: Emil’s “God” does not exist. Still, haven’t we also lapsed into that kind of thinking at times? I’m tempted to say “all of us,” but I can’t know that. I do know that a lot of us have tried on some occasion or other to make similar non-thinking bargains with God.

An acquaintance of mine, who was an evangelist, once told the following story. As I recall, a number of years ago, he—let’s call him Jimmy—was the speaker for a youth retreat. As is usually the case at such occasions, there was some time on the schedule for relaxation and recreation, which was enhanced by the presence of a fairly large swimming pool. After taking care of a few other matters, Jimmy headed to the pool. When he was just about to plunge into the refreshing coolness, a teenaged girl stepped up to him and asserted in a rather confrontational manner: “I don’t believe in God any more. I lost my special ring in the pool, and I prayed that God would let me find it. We spent a lot of time looking for it, but it’s disappeared. So, I don’t think that there is a God.”

“Well, that’s good,” Jimmy replied, and dove into the water.

The girl was flabbergasted. Here was the speaker, the supposedly professional “God man,” telling her that it was a good thing that she had given up faith in God. Jimmy’s point, of course, was that the young lady had not given up belief in the biblical God, but in the fantasy of the Emilian servant-deity. God’s existence cannot be proven or disproven by whether he helps us to find lost trinkets. That’s not the God about whom Jimmy was preaching, and, for that matter, it’s not the God whom I worship. (Having made his point, Jimmy did continue his conversation with her, in case you’re wondering.)

Emil, the speaker in our vignette, seems to represent an extreme in scope and triviality. The young man did not remember to get gas when he had the opportunity, and now he was praying for a miracle akin to what God had done for Elijah and the widow in Zarepath, whose small amount of flour and oil had lasted the throughout a lengthy period of drought and famine (1 Kings 17:8-16). There’s a big difference, however. Elijah went there because God had sent him and had promised him that this woman would provide for him. For him it was a matter of complete trust in God; he was not putting God to the test. On the other hand, God had promised Emil neither that he would give him a personally tailored sign of his existence nor that he would keep his car running under prohibitive circumstances.

Not too long ago June and I were a part of a meeting of Christians who were getting together on the spur of the moment for mutual encouragement, sharing, and prayer. To me, it was a good illustration of how the Body of Christ should function. Such a meeting can generate a beautiful atmosphere, but in this case the ambience did not last very long. A young man at this meeting, who had asserted before that he was a Christian, declared that he could no longer believe in God because of all of the suffering he and his family were going through. They were, indeed, difficult issues. Thus, his story was a whole lot more poignant than Emil’s.

Still, the sharing part of the meeting went on in a positive spirit. We prayed, took a break, and then gathered for discussion. In light of our friend’s declaration, the person who had arranged for this get-together asked me to talk a little bit about suffering and God, and I did so gladly. At this juncture, the philosophical problem of evil becomes pertinent, of course, but if someone has lost his faith in God due to personal suffering, the philosophical issues are not necessarily the most crucial ones. Well, I went ahead as best I could and gave a short unscripted talk in which I emphasized that 1) we should not minimize the reality of evil and suffering in the world; 2) for a Christian the doubts arise from our inability at times to reconcile a biblically based view of God's love and goodness with the suffering we may undergo; and 3) that we must, therefore, understand our afflictions under the heading of what the Bible teaches us about human suffering, specifically, that it began with human disobedience to God, but that, according to the Bible, God uses our suffering for greater purposes. (For the sake of point I’m trying to make, it’s not necessary to expand on this statement right now; see my collection of thoughts on the problem of evil for more.)

The young man who had earlier asserted his lost faith responded to what I had said. But he did not refer to his personal circumstances. Instead, he asked me how, in light of my having mentioned the fallen state of human beings, I would make sense of the pain of animals over the long time span before there were any people. That response rather surprised me because it's a rather theoretical argument and not the kind of question people normally lose their faith over.

The truth is that I don’t have a good straight-forward answer to that question, and, to be honest, I don’t know how I could. It makes too many assumptions, including a commitment to one particular understanding of the origin of life, as well as the idea that an animal’s pain is no different from a human being’s suffering. Neither of those are necessarily safe assumptions. Our friend’s own suffering, though real, did not involve physical pain. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for eliminating as much pain and unhappiness from the lives of animals as is possible, but you can’t put their suffering on the same plane as that of human beings. Animals aren’t burdened with the mental aspect of suffering, which exacerbates that of humans with abstract thoughts concerning such things as the absence of hope for remediation. Animal suffering is in a different category from human suffering. And, to get back to the main point, it was his own issues that were causing him problems.

Our friend replied by telling me that in Hinduism there are many descriptions of how overwhelming the suffering of animals is. I said that whatever Hindus believed about animal suffering could not possibly have an impact on my understanding of suffering in the light of Christian teaching.

Can you see what was happening here? The discussion had begun with his assertion that, even though he had at one time considered himself to be a Christian, in the light of his personal suffering he could no longer believe in God as he had at one time. My talk had come from a Christian basis as well. But he was now drawing on world views that neither he nor I shared. The apparently deeply personal confession that he had volunteered was giving way to generic arguments on behalf of atheism that really were irrelevant to his situation. Whether the shift in his beliefs had begun with doubts about the reality of God due to his personal suffering, I cannot say. From where I sat, just as likely he may have encountered some atheists who had persuaded him of their point of view, which he then applied to his own situation. Regardless, by the time of our discussion that evening, he was far beyond disclosing a personal struggle, as it had appeared at first. He was not mourning a loss, but trying to establish the rabbit trails that frequently cross the landscape of today's so-called new atheists.

What I’m getting at is that, even though some people may say that they lost faith in God because of their suffering, even when it’s a whole lot more serious than not getting a gas tank miracle or supernatural help in finding a lost ring, there may be other currents running beneath the surface that are initially invisible. I’m not saying that such is always the case, but it can be, as it appeared to be the case in this instance.

To finish this short narration, at this point some of the other folks joined in and talked about their understanding of suffering based on their experience and their understanding of what the Bible teaches. And that is where such a conversation has to be. If I may adapt Marilyn McCord Adams’ phrase, the God of the Bible is not an omnipotent pleasure-maximizer. When the question is not the philosophical one on how to reconcile the attributes of God with the reality of evil, but the personal one of why God is letting me suffer, we have crossed over into the field of applied theology, and our answers must stem from the Bible. The non-Christian’s questions are not relevant if they do not actually touch on the beliefs that gave rise to the issue in the first place, and those come packaged with biblical concepts.

Let me mention one other point. I have asserted before that I don’t think it’s possible to draw up an objective chart of the degrees of suffering. “You don’t know how I feel” or “You can’t understand how much I’m suffering” may always be true statements, though that effect goes in both directions. I may not understand your suffering, but you may not understand mine either. Nevertheless, I will say this much on the situation that I have brought up. As I was looking around the circle of Christian friends that evening, I knew that every one of them either had suffered deeply at some time or was currently suffering. Moreover, even while I'm not forgetting about the caution I stated above, I can still state that the outward circumstances of their sufferings were more imposing than those that our friend had related. Was he more sensitive to suffering than the rest of us? I don’t know. If he was, it was apparently only his own suffering that made the difference, ignoring the fact (which he would have known) that others had not discarded their faith in the face of adversity. So, maybe he was more rational than the rest of us? I doubt it. Or, to go in the other direction, had he allowed himself to become influenced by the shallow arguments of the current atheistic rearguard and then used his personal circumstances to gain sympathy for his flight into unbelief? Again, I cannot say. I do know that God has not promised us a life in the present that is devoid of suffering, as much as we may wish for it.

To be continued …

 

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Sunday, February 15th 2015

22:17

Relating to God, 4b and the Piano

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Good
  • IN THE BACKDROP: StreetJelly.com

I think I’ve mentioned before that we’re in the process of moving rooms around in the house. This time the reason is to relocate the bedroom downstairs in what is currently the living room, and establishing the so-called dining room (no one hardly ever eats there) as the living room. The point is to eliminate the need to use the stairway. I will still have my stuff (books, etc.) upstairs, but neither June nor I will have to go up there for every day living purposes. In the process, there are a number of furnishings that we no longer have room for, and standing out among them has been the piano.

I guess it may be appropriate to insert the "Furniture Moving Song" at this point, my Valentine's song for June about three years ago. This was my first public performance, together with the short-lived Tippy Ditch trio, after several years of not being able to play the guitar or do anything of this kind at all. Thanks to Gary Friesen for making it possible and for recording the occasion. 

We got the piano back in 1981, after living in an apartment in Upland, Indiana, for four years. I had taken on the task of being part-time pastor of a small country church in the vicinity of Alexandria (in addition, of course, to my ongoing full-time work at Taylor). A very nice parsonage came with it, and we had no trouble accepting that benefit. When the gentleman who was leading the search process first called me, he immediately followed up the question of whether I was interested in the position by asking me, “And does you wife play the pie-anno?” The answer was yes, and she would play for the Sunday evening services. A drawback was that we didn’t have a piano at home for her to practice on, but around Christmas that year we were able to purchase one. It served us well for many years.

I set out to learn to play the piano using the “adult-easy-method,” which definitely had its merits, though it would not lead to proper piano technique per se. One played chords with the left hand and a melody line, maybe even including some harmony, with the right. I kept it up for a while, but came to realize that I would never get good enough that I would want to listen to myself play the piano, and decided to focus more again on my other instruments (most prominently the guitar, of course).

Piano AdIn the meantime, because of her various health issues, June hadn’t been able to play it any more, and so it had turned into a decoration by itself as well as a stand for further decorations. Still, it wasn’t easy on June, and she needed to decide when she was ready to let go of it, which turned out to be right about now. We asked around if anyone in our circle of family or friends wanted it, but no one had use for it. So I advertised it on Craig’s List, “Piano—free for pick up.”

Earlier this week a local business person expressed serious interest in it, and we talked on the phone Thursday evening. He was going to call again Friday morning to set up a definite time for looking it over. That call never came. I sent him a voice message, and he never replied. I’m assuming that for some reason he changed his mind, which is fine, but I am having a hard time understanding the rudeness of not going to the minor trouble of letting us know.

Nevertheless, things turned out much better than turning the piano over to a half-hearted recipient, where it was likely to face an uncertain future. Last night I got an e-mail about the piano from a young lady, who really, really wanted one. First of all, she had the good sense to inquire precisely what I meant by “small repairs,” and she suggested that I might send her some more pictures, documenting, for instance, that all the keys were still there. Good idea. They are.  “free” piano can easily metamorphose into an expensive White Elephant. (No implicit allusion to ivory intended.) I sent her pictures of everything that was relevant, and—to make a long story short—this afternoon she and some helpers picked it up. The wonderful thing is that it will fill a genuine need, and, even though she’ll have to put a bit of money into tuning and the aforementioned minor repairs, the piano will once again be used and loved. June and I really felt good about it, though, as mentioned, it was not easy for June to see the piano go. Not being able to play it any more did not reduce her emotional attachment to it. Still, it was great to know that it was going into a good, caring home.

*****

There was a goof in my last blog entry, most of which I have rectified by now, but the point in question deserves more explanation anyway. Patrick C. pointed out that the verse I cited in the text of my entry, Romans 9:10b, didn’t seem to have anything to do with the topic I was addressing. He was right; it certainly didn’t, and I did make the correction in one place before posting it. I had moved all of that material into the table to the right of it, and there I referenced the correct verse, namely Romans 8:9. However, somehow I forgot to expunge the text with the wrong citation from the main section. It’s gone now.

As long as I’m mentioning the verse, let me clarify exactly what it says and its significance.

The immediate context was the presence of the Holy Spirit within the believer. I think it may be a good idea to do a longer series on the third person of the trinity, but right now I just want to stick to this particular matter. Romans 8:9b states (HCSB):

But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

With a very simple logical maneuver, we can turn this negative statement around. (This is called a "contrapositive," and all but intuitionists* accept its validity):

If anyone belongs to Christ, he has his Spirit.

Being a Christian and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit go together. The Holy Spirit has many ministries that he carries out on our behalf. Some are directed to the world as a whole, some benefit all believers, and some apply only to certain believers at particular time. “Having” the Holy Spirit, viz. having God live within you in the person of the Holy Spirit is true for all of us who are redeemed by the blood of Christ. You may need to become more obedient to his leading, but you do not need to acquire him.

Awesome thought; incredible reality.

*****

*Explanation on request.

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Friday, February 13th 2015

23:43

Relating to God, part 4.

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Fine
  • IN THE BACKDROP: Debra Whyte on StreetJelly

On we go with our thoughts on Christian experience with the Lord. We’ll focus on the topic of emotions and feelings, which has kept popping up.

First, though, speaking of emotions and such, I need to comment on last night’s StreetJelly.com set. I really had a blast and am thankful to everyone who joined the party, named or anonymous. Leaving aside the quality of my singing and guitar playing, it was an incredible amount of fun. I’ve gotten to the point of being pretty relaxed now performing to the computer. For some reason that was hard for me initially, a reality that struck me as particularly odd since I’ve been comfortable in front of large audiences forever. (Actually really large venues are relatively easy because you can’t see the audience anyway beyond the first couple of rows or so due to the bright stage lights.)  I still make mistakes and always will, a consequence of my condition, but they don't stick out as much when everyone's relaxed and having a good time.

Baez and Dylan 1963Next Week: “Bob Dylan Tunes”—meaning, for the most part, early B.D. from before he went from folk singer to rock artist. Requests are welcome. I already have two. (Thursday, February 19, 9 pm EST)

I must say that I was somewhat startled to see Bob Dylan on the cover of the latest AARP magazine. Then again, he’s 73 years old, and, like many members, not entirely retired. He’s releasing a new album of what are essentially Frank Sinatra covers, and he allegedly granted AARP the one and only interview in that connection. I’m glad to say that it was not a repeat of that contrived, hoaky 60 Minutes interview .

*****

I don’t particularly hide the fact that I can be a fairly emotional person. Obviously, there are times when one has to cover up one's feelings in order to avoid a solecism. As Sherlock Holmes said in a recent episode of “Elementary” while interviewing a suspect, as closely as I remember, “I realize that it is obligatory for me not to show my feelings in a setting such as this, but I assure you that on the inside I’m cracking up with laughter.”

Other people demonstrate their emotions more or less vigorously.

Having said as much, here’s tonight’s “testimony,” the fourth of five. Once again, the actual piece is made up, but sticks very closely, almost literally, to what some folks have aid to me at various times.

I wish I felt what everyone else is feeling.  I’ve been a Christian all of my life, and I don’t have a great conversion story.  When I was six years old, my grandma helped me accept Christ as my savior, and I’ve been a more or less good Christian ever since.  My problem is this:  Everybody around me seems to feel the Lord’s presence all the time.  When they’re sick and people pray for them, they tell everybody that they felt a special touch from the Lord.  When they worship the Lord, they talk about feeling his majesty, or his love, or his closeness.  I never seem to feel any of that.  Maybe I’m just not a “feeling type of person,” but some people have hinted around that if I don’t feel the Lord in my life, maybe that’s because he’s not real in my life.  I’m starting to wonder myself.

Back when I used to have students respond to this and the other “reports” in small groups, I was just a little bit surprised when some of them (and, please, I have no idea who anymore) in their “letter” to the fictional person encouraged him or her (I’ll go with “her” again because of the example I will use below) to find some means of discovering appropriate Christian emotions. Some of those reactions may have just been due to a difference of how to interpret the words “emotion” and “feeling.” I’m assuming that the person under consideration has the basic human feelings that we would associate with gratitude to God, love of God, and so forth, but all-in-all on a relatively sober level. For example, she’s thankful that God has saved her, but she’s not getting huge tingles surging through her body whenever she thinks about it, let alone making a demonstration of her feelings to others. So, let me put it this way: Since she is human, she has “normal” human reactions, but nothing on a level that, for her personality, would involve some artificial cranking up.

Some Christians place a great amount of value on public displays of emotions. There are some smaller denominations in which people are not considered to be truly repentant or saved unless they shed tears in front of the congregation. I’m pretty certain that such an outburst is not a requirement set up in the Bible.

Still, for many Christians nowadays, the display of some wanton emotion seems to be, if not mandatory, then at least a measure of displaying of a person’s piety. Picture yourself in what is the music portion of a worship service. There you are, standing and singing the song projected onto the screen, thinking of the meaning of the words, while others around you are raising their hands, seemingly going into some kind of holy trance. You couldn’t put yourself into that state if you tried. It may become quite difficult for you not to think that you may be missing something, or for those around you to wonder why you don’t seem to love the Lord as much as they do. I don’t mean that assessment in a harsh, judgmental way; it’s just one of those reactions that seem to be extremely hard to avoid without proper guidance. Still, it’s nonsense.

Christianity is about reality, not emotions. (Please see my video on mysticism on YouTube, particularly the reference to whether Christianity has anything equivalent to the Hindu “Tat Tvam Asi” experience.) The reality I’m talking about is the gospel of God’s redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection, the fact that our redemption requires a simple trust in Jesus and what he has done, and the truth that, once we are redeemed, we are indwelt by God himself. Personally, I can’t think of those matters without being overawed, and I don’t think anyone can do so without feeling a similar emotion, but the degree of feeling, let alone the manner in which we may display it,is going to vary from person to person. Most importantly the realities are not affected by our emotions, neither strengthening nor weakening them except may as an indicator of our commitment to them. I'm writing as someone who has had to fight against emotional misdirection for much of my life, and I thank God for a wife who has more than one helped me see reality as it is and not as I'm revising it in my head. And, if I may go a little bit out on a limb, once in a while vice versa. ---- C'm on it's Valentine's season, and a little romantic by play (if that's what it is) is certainly forgivable.

I must get back to my topic so that every verbal uphill eventually will issue in a verbal downhill.

When my book, Mysticism: An Evangelical Option? came out in 1991*, I was invited to give a number of radio interviews, probably more so with that title than with any subsequent one. The book, though far from a massive seller, opened a number of great opportunities to communicate the gospel that might otherwise not have come my way. For example, I was invited to be the guest for a midnight show on KDKA in Pittsburgh hosted by “Father John” (I think) to discuss the topic of mysticism. During dark hours, KDKA can be heard pretty much all over the Eastern half of the United States. It was a call-in show, where, say, “Jim from Alabama,” or “Susan from Maryland,” and so forth got to phone in and ask questions of “the professor.” Oh yeah, I should also clarify that the guest on such shows is connected to the studio by phone; viz., I didn’t drive to Pittsburgh for the interview.

For those of my readers who have not read my Mysticism let me state its fundamental points with regard to New Testament-based Christianity.

1. I believe that there is no further “special revelation” beyond the biblical canon. I cannot rule out that God may guide a person directly in some particular mode of his choosing, but such a person’s experiences may not infringe on the authority of Scripture.

2. The Bible neither mandates a special experience nor raises up a special experiences as an indication of greater spiritual maturity or commitment. I’m not saying that such experience can’t happen, but, if so, the Bible does not endow them with any great significance. By the way, this point was also emphasized by the so-called mystic Meister Eckhart.

3. The Bible does, however, tell us about the realities, as mentioned above, that could legitimately called “mystical.” If God's presence within us in the person of the Holy Spirit does not qualify as "mystical," the word must have been severely truncated in meaning. Still, this reality is not associated with a special emotional experience and does not yield new revelation for the church. However, if you know Christ as your savior, that reality, among others, is yours, whether you feel anything or not. See Romans 8:9.

 

So, the phones started ringing. Some callers wanted to know my opinion about people who, as far as they knew, showed particular signs of great piety and a mystical union with God. For instance, a man told me of a woman who was so deeply spiritual that she always exuded the scent of flowers, a phenomenon frequently associated with people who miraculously manifest Christ’s stigmata (i.e. his wounds). It’s usually violets, though in this instance, the caller said roses. I did not pursue the olfactory aspect of this matter, but took advantage of the opportunity to tell him and other similar callers that, outwards signs were not important, and that they could be just as close, if not closer, to God simply by coming to Christ in faith. People who made a display of their “deep” faith that was accompanied by special effects were no holier than you and I can be. One lady called in to tell me that I was “beautiful,” and I’ve never quite figured out what that meant in the context, other than as a compliment.

Let’s tune in to another radio interview in connection with the same book. The opening vignette of this post is drawn to a large extent from this event. This time it was an afternoon session on a Christian radio station in Texas. Again, I emphasized my message that displays of extraordinary emotion were not a biblical requirement for salvation or Christian growth. The realities are there, whether you feel them and express them with great emotional fervor or not. A woman called in and asked me to repeat exactly what I had said to make sure she had heard correctly. “No, you are not less of a Christian if you do not show a lot of emotions.”

The lady thanked me profusely. In fact, paradoxically, she did become somewhat emotional. This matter had become a huge weight for her, and, as illustrated in the “testimony” above, some Christians had started to look down on her for not being as demonstrative as others, and, without further help, she had actually come to doubt her faith because she just could not get herself to feel what her friends claimed to feel and told her that she should feel as well.

I could go on with examples. There was the student, a solid Christian, on one of my trips to Israel who, towards the end of the trip had become concerned. Other people seemed to have experiences so much feeling when we visited sites associated with the life of Jesus. He appreciated them, was thankful to God for what Jesus had done, recognized the privilege of visiting them, but he never got any strong emotional reaction. “What’s wrong with me?” he asked me. My answer was very simply “Nothing. You’re a different person than others (as in various senses we all are). If you don’t feel what others feel, that’s perfectly okay.” I only wished he had spoken to me about it earlier.

The difference that I'm talking about is illustrated by King David and General Joab, David’s military chief of staff. Let me lead off this comparison by stating the obvious, namely that neither of these two men were paragons of virtue, as evidenced in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 11). But that’s not my topic this time; I’m interested here in their contrasting personalities.

David was forever struggling with his emotions. In the narrative accounts in 2 Samuel (some of them left out in Chronicles), his emotions got in the way of clear judgment, whether they had to do with his sons or various women (most notably, but not exclusively, Absalom and Bathsheba respectively). In many of his psalms, e.g., Psalm 143, he depicted himself in the depths of despair, hopelessly at the mercy of his enemies. But then he recalled God’s goodness and trustworthiness, and he ended up comforted and quieted, relying on God for help with whatever he could not cope with—until the next time, when his emotions would plunge again and he would go through the same process once more.

 

This is an interesting story, by the way, and you'll find most of it in 1 Chronicles, not in 2 Samuel. The sequence of events started when David sent some emissaries to Ammon to express their condolences to King Nahash on the occasion of his father's passing. Nahash severely insulted them, and, thereby, David himself and his kingdom. When it dawned on Nahash that he was in trouble, he decided to defend against military retaliation on David's part by going on the offensive. He made an alliance with the Arameans so that these two armies could combine in a strong offensive attack on Judah. David sent out Joab and Abishai with their divisions while he remained in Jerusalem. As mentioned in the text, Joab’s and Abishai’s divisions marched right into a highly undesirable battle formation with the Arameans on one side, and the Ammonites, with their backs secured by the city Medeba on the other. Joab’s division was to take on the Arameans, while Abishai’s troops would start out by fighting the Ammonites. As it turned out, there was not much of a battle. When the Arameans saw Joab and his soldiers charging at them, they turned and fled. The Ammonites observed what was happening and took to their heels as well, finding safety from Abishai behind the walls of Medeba.

One would think that, having returned home, the Arameans would be thankful that they got away and sue for peace if necessary. Instead, they gathered a huge army to fight Judah. This time David himself took command, and the outcome was a genuine rout with many Arameans getting killed. Then David returned to Jerusalem (and had the affair with Bathsheba), while Joab led the army in a lengthy mission coursing through Ammon and subduing the entire country. This campaign culminated in the siege of Ammon's capital city, Rabbah. (It was here that Uriah was killed.) Eventually, Joab called for David to come and oversee the final toppling of Rabbah. By that time David had been chastened by God, but also reaffirmed upon his repentance. Rabbah fell, and David endowed himself with the crown of Ammon. The lesson of the story as far as the Arameans were concerned: We will never help Ammon again!

And here you thought there was nothing of interest in Chronicles!

 

 

On the other hand, I don’t know whether Joab ever had a single emotion in his life. Okay, that’s an obvious overstatement; I realize that he must have, though his emotions don’t seem to have played a big role in his life. He served God, and he served his king, always doing the right thing—as he understood it. Obeying God took precedence over the fluctuating desires of the king. David could not bring himself to order Absalom’s execution, an unavoidable necessity according to the rules of that time; Joab just did it. I love his speech to his brother Abishai when each of them was commanding half of Judah’s army in a situation where loss seemed inevitable. They were outnumbered and outflanked by an alliance of the Ammonite and Aramean armies. To adapt Captain Kirk's question to Captain Picard ("Generations," 1994), "the odds were against them, and the situation was grim." Still, he made a mutual assistance compact with Abishai as though their eventual victory was assured (1 Chron. 19:12-13).

“If the Arameans are too strong for me,” Joab said, “then you’ll be my help. However, if the Ammonites are too strong for you, I’ll help you. Be strong! We must prove ourselves strong for our people and for the cities of our God. May the Lord’s will be done.”

 

Are you a David? Great. Are you a Joab? Just as great. Our standard is the Bible, which neither forbids emotions, as long as they don’t interfere with the rest of what God has revealed, nor expects them beyond the range of normal human nature. The “peace that surpasses our understanding” (Phil. 4:7) is a gift from God; we cannot produce it by our efforts and it doesn’t express itself in never-ending smiles and giggles. To rejoice in the Lord, to feel confident in his promises, to be amazed at his grace, none of these things entail a mandate to morph into a light-hearted extroverted personality. And it is certainly absurd to attempt to produce emotions artificially, not even if you have been intimidated by other Christians who may be trying sell you on such a production as necessary.

A former campus pastor at Taylor University had a plaque on a wall that said something like this:

“Allow God to be as creative with other people as he has been with you.”

*Note to all the young and restless authors eager to get onto the major publishing scene. Please note that's about 10 years from Handmaid to Theology (1981) to Mysticism 1991, a ten-year gap only to be interrupted by my revision of Norm Geisler's Philosopy of Religion as far as books go.  Both book were totally written "on spec" in the hopes that a publisher would eventually see the worth in them and go with them, which I'm delighted is the way it happened.

 

 

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